Missouri lawmakers endorsed measures Tuesday that could resurrect a requirement for voters to show government-issued photo identification in order to cast ballots.
The state Senate gave initial approval to a bill that would implement the photo ID requirement, if voters first approve an amendment to the state constitution. The Senate action came just hours after a House committee endorsed two similar measures - one amending the constitution to allow a photo identification requirement; the other enacting the requirement into state law.
The House version also would allow an early voting period before elections - something not contained in the Senate version but which the National Conference of State Legislatures says already occurs in 32 other states and the District of Columbia.
A 2006 Missouri law requiring voters to show a government-issued photo ID was struck down by the state Supreme Court as an unconstitutional infringement on the fundamental
right to vote.
Lawmakers are attempting to get around that Supreme Court decision by proposing to insert a specific allowance for a photo ID requirement into the state constitution. The proposed constitutional amendment would appear on a 2012 ballot.
The photo identification requirement has been pushed by Republicans - who now have even larger legislative majorities than they did five years ago - as a means of guarding against voter fraud.
Sponsoring Sen. Bill Stouffer, R-Napton, said photo identifications already are required by some hotels, movie-rental businesses and package-shipping companies.
"It's part of our society, and I think it's appropriate to use that to ensure you're a qualified voter," Stouffer said.
But some civil rights attorneys said a photo ID requirement - even if inserted into the state constitution - could be in conflict with other constitutional provisions about elections and retroactive laws.
"We're not talking about renting a movie, cashing a check or even getting on an airplane. We're talking about a fundamental right," said Denise Lieberman, an attorney with the Advancement Project, a group that has monitored Missouri polling places in past elections.
Democratic Secretary of State Robin Carnahan has opposed a photo identification requirement, insisting there have been no instances of people impersonating other voters at the polls.
Missouri voters already have the option of showing a driver's license or other government-issued photo ID when they go to the polls. But state law also allows voters to prove their identity with documents that do not contain photographs, such as copies of current utility bills, bank statements or paychecks listing their names and addresses.
Senators on Tuesday approved a Democratic amendment granting an exception to the proposed photo identification requirement for people who could produce a traffic summons indicating their driver's licenses had been confiscated.
But the Republican-led Senate rejected a Democratic amendment that would have allowed Election Day voter registration.
To be eligible to vote in an election, Missouri residents currently must register about a month beforehand.